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Managing Stress in the Workplace

Working can provide our lives with purpose, satisfaction, structure and, of course, income. But according to Bupa Healthwatch* research data, around 40 per cent of Australians feel they are working long hours, and just as many say they come home from work feeling exhausted. Long hours and exhaustion related to work may contribute to feelings of stress and may be affecting your health and wellbeing, even when work is also delivering those other positive aspects.

In addition to long hours, many factors can contribute to workplace stress including the physical environment you work in and your lifestyle habits. The good news is, with some thought, some effort, and even just a few simple changes to your work practices inside the office, and your lifestyle habits outside the office, you can help reduce the impact of work-related stress on your health and wellbeing.

Taking care at work

When trying to reduce the negative impact of stress in the workplace, take a moment to look at the physical environment you work in.

If a workstation is not set up properly, it can put great stress on muscles and joints. Bad posture, and sitting for extended periods of time can also cause or worsen common muscle and joint problems such as shoulder, back, neck and arm pain and headaches. Make sure your workspace is comfortable and suitable for the work you have to do, with proper workspace design. Along with improving your posture and having good working habits, this can reduce the risk of workplace injuries and have a positive impact on your physical and mental health


The human eye prefers to look at objects more than six metres away. Close-up work – such as using a computer – can strain the eyes and lead to symptoms of eye fatigue, including blurred vision and headaches. Give your eyes a break every now and then – look away from the computer screen and focus on a far away object for a few minutes.


Your elbows and forearms should rest level with your desk, roughly parallel to the floor, with your hands resting comfortably on the keyboard. Keep your mouse as close as possible, and at the same height as your correctly positioned keyboard. Type lightly and gently, and remove your hands from the keyboard when not actively typing to allow your arms to relax.

Lower back

Take the strain off your lower back by sitting up straight (not hunched) on a chair with good support for your lumbar vertebrae – the part of the spine closest to the hips that supports most of the body’s weight.


Adjust your chair so your thighs are parallel to the floor while your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Rest your feet flat on the floor or on a foot rest where necessary.

Have a break

Have regular short breaks to take a walk or do a few stretches – this can help relieve the build up of pressure and strain from sitting at your desk for long, uninterrupted stretches of typing.


The increasing use of laptops, with screens and keyboards close together, has increased the rate of pains, strains and injuries. In the office, use equipment such as a docking station, separate keyboard and mouse, and laptop stand. Outside, use a backpack or wheel-along luggage to carry your laptop without causing excessive strain on muscles and joints.


Position your monitor so it is at eye level or lower and tilt it slightly to eliminate reflections and glare. Adjust the controls to reduce the contrast and brightness of your screen.

If you feel that your workstation is a problem, discuss any issues you have with your manager or ask for help from your workplace health and safety officer, who may be able to help you identify a solution.

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Looking after yourself

What you do outside the office, whether it’s going for a walk or jog every day or eating healthy meals, may help to improve your physical and mental health inside the office too. Managing your wellbeing helps increase your ability to manage stress. This is called resilience. Ways to look after yourself include:

Getting active

Research has shown that some exercise programs can help reduce anxiety. By improving your fitness, exercise may help to combat stress while keeping you in good physical shape and condition. Try a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day most days of the week, go for a run at lunchtime, or join a gym. .

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

Generally, a diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, lean meat and low-fat dairy products and is low in saturated and trans fats, salt and highly-processed foods, can be one of your best tickets to good health.

Get enough good quality sleep

Lack of sleep affects both our mental performance and our mood. On average, most adults need around 7–8 hours of sleep each night, though this amount can vary according to age and individual needs. Try to set a bedtime and stick to it.

Not smoking, and limiting the amount of caffeine you drink

Nicotine in cigarettes and caffeine in coffee, cola and energy drinks are stimulants that may increase your stress levels.

Being smart about how much alcohol you choose to drink

Alcohol may help you feel more relaxed at first, but long-term drinking to cope with stress can lead to a range of health and social problems. It’s also likely that drinking too much may negatively affect how well you can do your work, increasing the stress you’re under.

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Recognising the Warning Signs

A certain level of pressure in the workplace is normal and can even be quite beneficial. But sometimes this pressure, over a sustained period, can become a problem.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Work-related stress is experienced differently by each person but prolonged and severe stress can impair normal function. When it becomes more of a problem you may feel symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • neck, shoulder and back ache
  • disturbed sleep
  • fatigue
  • heart palpitations
  • changed appetite
  • stomach upset
  • reduced ability to concentrate
  • anxiety
  • low mood.

Where can I go for help?

Most of the time you can get help from your manager, your HR department or your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provider.

If you feel stress has been affecting your ability to carry out everyday activities for two weeks or more you may need to discuss it with your GP or a qualified mental health professional. There are also 24-hour telephone support services such as Lifeline (13 11 14) and organisations such as beyondblue ( who may be able to help you.

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Further information

Safe Work Australia


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Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Physical activity guidelines. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. c2007. [last updated 23 Mar 2009, accessed Jun 2011] Available from:

Better Health Channel, Victorian Government. Computer-related injuries [online]. Melbourne, VIC: State Government of Victoria. c2012. [Last reviewed May 2011, accessed Jun 2011]. Available from:

Bouayed J Rammal H Soulimani R. Oxidative stress and anxiety: relationship and cellular pathways. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2009; 2(2): 63–67.

Bupa Healthwatch Survey – Wave Three. 2009

DrugInfo Clearinghouse.

International Stress Management Association (ISMA). How to identify stress. [online] Monmouthshire: ISMA. C2009-2012. [accessed Jun 2011] Available from:

National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Guidelines for all Australians. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australian. 2003 [accessed Jun 2011] Available from:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. [online] Bethseda, MD: NINDS. 2007 [accessed Jun 2011] Available from:

National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC). The NOHSC Symposium on the OHS Implications of Stress December 2001. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. 2002.

Pandey A Quick JC Rossi AM et al. 11 Stress and the Workplace: 10 Years of Science, 1997–2007. In Contrada RJ and Baum A (eds). The Handbook of Stress Science: Biology, Psychology, and Health. New York: Springer. 2010; pp 137–150

Penedo FJ Dahn JR. Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 2005; 18 (2): 189–193.

Last published: 31 August 2012

* Bupa Healthwatch 2009 survey conducted by TNS Healthcare and involved a sample of Australians aged between 18 and 75 years who were invited to complete an online questionnaire. A total of 1,210 questionnaires were completed. Find out more about the Healthwatch program.

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published date: 31 August 2012